The penalty is harsher for someone who burglarizes another’s home (“burglary of a dwelling”) than, say, an office or industrial building (“burglary of a structure”). So defense lawyers and prosecutors (and appellate attorneys behind them) have argued for years and years over the proper definition of a dwelling. What are we to make, for example, of a newly-built house that was never lived in? Or one that was unoccupied for months on end though its owner hoped to rent or sell it some day?
The Florida Supreme Court has attempted to provide some guidance. The controlling principle, it said, is the purpose of the building. So in the first two examples, because the new house’s and the unoccupied one’s purposes were to be lived in, they were dwellings. A house that temporarily cannot be lived in during major renovations remains a dwelling too. But if the renovation has for purpose to convert it to an office or offices, it lost its initial character and became a mere structure. Buildings too can be demoted.
And there we come full circle to the roles of attorneys, both at trial and on appeal, to make the justice system work and insure that a defendant, if guilty, be found guilty of the right offense. This is necessary to punish any wrongdoer according to the way Society, through its democratically elected representatives, has decided was fair and right.